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tv   The Presidency  CSPAN  January 19, 2015 12:00am-1:07am EST

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to sound too grandiose, but driverless cars, save cars, food production, hunger. there are a lot of ways of sensing get information to your doctor. analyze, use the cloud. safety of everything. exploring things you know. you're taking a lot of profits. we are going to be reducing them in the future. >> it is a great opportunity for us as a company. our next generation of activities. we are talking about our semi-autonomous vehicles. we are also talking about
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innovation process being really important. it is a great challenge. a lot of information together. i really enjoy the opportunity to learn. animation is happening in the marketplace. my job is complete. when i think about headphones. i look at satellite products and different video products. so many different items that we had before. i get to learn a number of different products. that may not involve us today but in may involve us in the future. monday night on c-span2. >> >> next, john mckee barr talks about "loathing lincoln: an american tradition from the civil war to the present."
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he says in order to understand why lincoln is revered, it is important to understand the criticisms of his detractors. the lincoln group of the district of columbia hosted this one hour 20 minute event. >> good evening. i am former vice president of the lincoln group in the district of columbia. it is my honor and privilege to invite tonight's speaker, john mckee barr, a professor of history at lone star college kingwood, for the past seven years, teaching a class on darwin and lincoln, who were born on the same day. before that, he was a high school teacher in the houston public school system. that is good preparation for the kind of flack he has to put up now at it.
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this is his first book, and he has started a blog. i highly recommend it. it is very lively. it is loathinglincoln.com. the book has received a lot of praise. i want to read you a couple summaries. paradoxically, america's most revered president has also been its most reviled. detractors of the rail splitter have been a crowd of strange bedfellows. libertarians, neoconservatives white supremacists, black panthers.
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the right to own, exploit, and rape african-americans and their descendents forever. another comment, from a critic -- from bitter, defeated critics after appomattox, and academics in our own time, the 16th president has become an historical man for all seasons with each group having its own swing at the piƱata. it is amazing how some and he groups ideologically opposed to one another can hold a mirror up to this unique figure in american history and find the same monster staring back at them. [applause] >> thank you for having me here this evening.
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it is nice to hear those comments. michael was very kind to me at various points. that was nice when he gave a blurb. i was also lucky that my father-in-law grew up in a family of eight children, so i was able to go all over the u.s. for free while i did research. this is my wife's uncle, peter gutierrez. i am staying with him. i want to recognize peter and his family for all they have done for me. [applause] the title of my talk is understanding why he was hated in order to understand why he was loved. that is a paraphrase of a quote by william f. buckley jr. said
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late in his life around 2002. we can't really understand why lincoln was loved without understanding why he was hated. that is the premise of my book to look at lincoln's critics and examine, what did they hate him for? even lincoln's critics, if you think about jerome bennett thomas lorenzo junior, they believe what we think about lincoln is very important as a country. on that point, we agree. what i would like to talk about this evening is, i would like to tell you a story about his ongoing argument about we are as a country regarding abraham lincoln and his critics. the reasons people hate lincoln, they change over time. they never stay the same in any one particular era. none of the criticisms go away entirely. some are emphasized more in some eras. the way we think about lincoln
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and the way his critics think about him changes as our cultural anxiety changes. i would like to focus on the postwar years, 1865 to the present day. my book starts in 1858 with the lincoln-douglas debates. i will conclude with why i think this matters. i will then take questions you might have for me this evening. after the war is over, and lincoln has been assassinated, initially, i think, there is this idea that this great man, we have lost this great man. that wasn't entirely true. there were critics, even within the south, that viewed lincoln not as the savior of the union but as the destroyer of the union. that this old union that had existed before he came along had
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been destroyed by him. there were a couple criticisms that his critics in postwar years, oddly enough some of them were aided by his law partner. there were a couple major criticisms. one, he was the destroyer of the union. another criticism -- and i noticed this in my research -- they called him the great infidel. in that era, the 19th century, that meant lincoln was an atheist, or a free thinker. it was herndon who launched the tradition. some said he had been a wonderful christian. herndon did not agree with that and he said so. herndon, then war hill, and a book published in 1873, talked about lincoln as not believing
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in god. that bothered people. especially, you have just been through this bloodletting of 700,000 americans being killed in a war, and the idea that the men who had led the country through the war might not be a believer, that was troubling to people. there was a sense that he had destroyed the old union. there was a sense that he was an infidel. another thing i noticed that crops up is, this is how cultural anxiety shifts. we really admire his background. in our era, students today are inspired by this man who was born into dire conditions, really, and his mother died at a young age. he managed to become a successful lawyer. and later, the president. that is inspiring. it was inspiring to lincoln's generation as well. however, his critics found his background what they called
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disgusting and vulgar. it keeps popping up in phrase after phrase that i have read in my research. his most vociferous critic was albert bledsoe, who later moved south and did research for jefferson davis during the war. after the war, bledsoe published a defense of jefferson davis. what i want to do is read excerpts from the book. here is something that bledsoe said in a review, a 40-page review of the life of lincoln in 1873. bledsoe published it in the southern review, a journal that he edited that had 3000 subscribers.
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it is fair to say that it probably reached some people in the south, probably some influential people. here is what bledsoe said in 1873. we think, on the whole, mr. lincoln was the right man in the right place. no man better than he to represent the northern demos the party of the northwest against the party of the south. if, as we believe, that was the cause of brute force, blind passion, fanatical hate, lust of power and the greed of gain against the cause of constitutional law and human rights, then who was better fitted to represent it then the talented, but low, ignorant, and vulgar rail splitter of illinois? or if, as we all believe, it was the cause of infidelity and atheism, and against principles and the christian religion, who
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better to let them slip with the fury of the pit than the low-bred infidel of pigeon creek? in whose eyes the savior of the world was an illegitimate child. he could write. he could definitely write. there, you see these things, you hear the word vulgar, you hear the words that there is no morality to what the union did in the war, it was simply brute force while the constitutional law was on the side of the confederacy. bledsoe was a very important critic. you heard the word vulgar in that description. that is something that even lincoln's critics conceded, his background as being something
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that was less than savory. homer plessy's lawyer called him the great uncouth. that started in the 1890's. what happens in america in the 1890's? the country begins to expand overseas. now the criticism, while those criticisms i mentioned that lincoln was vulgar and an atheist, those criticisms remain, there is a new one. that he was the first imperialist. he had invaded the south. just like the united states had invaded the philippines or things of that nature. but something else begins to happen around the turn of the
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century as well. this is where you begin to see the first african-american criticisms of lincoln. why is that? what is happening around the turn-of-the-century regarding race relations in america? america had retreated from the egalitarian promises of reconstruction. in the early part of the 20th century, you get thousands of african-americans lynched in the country. there are african-american thinkers who begin to wonder what did we really gain from the war? are we really emancipated if we can be lynched at will? i noticed, for example, one figure, archibald grimke, said this in 1900 about lincoln. it seems to me that it is high time for colored americans to look at abraham lincoln from their own standpoint, instead of
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from that of their fellow white citizens. we have a point of view equally with them for the study of this public life, where it touched and influenced our history. and so, this other quote, we can publicly begin to work on intellectual emancipation than with abraham lincoln the emancipator. this idea among grimke and other thinkers, that we need to think about lincoln for ourselves, as an african-american community. here is what hubert harrison -- he was a radical, associated with marcus garvey, he wrote a series of lectures that he gave about lincoln. he was an important figure in the african-american community and he said this in one of his lectures.
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i shall endeavor to show that lincoln was not an abolitionist, that he had no special love for the negro, that he opposed the abolition of the domestic slave trade and he opposed citizenship for negroes, that he favored making slavery perpetual in 1851, that he did not officially -- say that the war was fought to free the slaves. he did not pay african-american soldiers in cold wages. that the emancipation proclamation was issued, not for the slave trade, but solely as an act to cripple the army of the south. and finally, that it did not abolish slavery and did not intend to. this is what i will prove in regard to lincoln and the members of his party. i am puzzled over this. i thought, how can you have this meeting of what confederates are saying and what
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african-americans are saying deco i told into it more deeply. even harrison and grimke, and for harrison, the bar was not set high. those were things he would hear bledsoe say, or a diehard confederate say. it struck me that this is not loathing. this is disappointment. it is disappointment with the way things had turned out. i think that is an important distinction. a colleague of mine, after she finished my book, she said, it seems to me that if i tell my child that i am disappointed in
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them, that is one thing. if i tell my child i loathe them, that is something else entirely. i think what you see is, you see criticism by the african-american community that it is criticism borne out of disappointment that the war did not fulfill promises. i think there is a key distinction there that i wanted to make in the book. i hope i made the distinction well. you will have to be the judge of that. i noticed, after world war i concluded, there is this new thing that crops up in lincoln hatred. but it is not a new thing, it is connected to criticism of lincoln as an atheist. it is an association of lincoln with the people who criticize him, they also hate modernity. i want to read you a quote from
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lincoln. i am sure you are familiar with it. lincoln said, i hold that if the almighty had ever made a set of men that should do all the brunt of the work, he would have made them with mouth's only and no hands. if he had ever made another class that he intended to do all the work and none of the eating, he would have made them without mouths and all hands. i think this illustrates something important about lincoln. he has this deep and strong sense that no one's position in life should ever be fixed at birth. i think, lincoln -- even the idea in his speeches that the
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slaves had interest is profoundly egalitarian in 19 century america, to say that the slaves in the south, they had feelings, they were not hogs and horses, they knew they were wronged, that was profoundly egalitarian. you do get people in between the wars -- remember, there are lots of changes going on in america after 1919. changes intellectually -- the theory of relativity, the automobile is introduced america is more urban than rural. these changes are very unsettling. to some of lincoln's critics. there is also a book published in the 1920's by bruce barton. he, i believe, is the father of william barton, am i correct?
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a scholar of lincoln's youth. he published a book called "the man nobody knows." he compares lincoln to jesus in the book. this absolutely drove lincoln's critics nuts. one thing that happened, also, and i will pass this picture around to you now, there was also a statue of lincoln put in the cathedral of saint john the divine in new york city. i took pictures there this summer, my wife took those pictures, there is a statue of lincoln in the cathedral. a united daughter of the confederacy member named mary carter, related to the lee family by marriage, she actually writes these public letters in the southern church magazine and official organ of the
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applicable church out of virginia, and i found these at the virginia historical society, these big letters, editorials on the backs of these church newspapers. she writes the bishop of washington dc, and listen to the language. this is published. as you are aware, she writes there is a very serious religious crisis in this country. the young are drifting away from the home and the churches and into criminal currents. the conclusion is inescapable that one of the major causes of the absence of christian qualities in the clergy, they fail to attract the young because their character lacks the discriminating and compelling christian virtues. as illustrating this lack, abraham lincoln is the only american who to my knowledge ever wrote a book to disprove the bible and calls the redeemer of mankind and illegitimate child.
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yet, he is the only person in this country who has been universally singled out by clergy to be classed with the christ. sabbath after sabbath, there must be something radically wrong with the spiritual perception of our clergy when a man of this type is selected for this placing and honor. what a spectacle. this man selected by the minister of christ as the equal of christ. one thing you noticed, and it probably struck many of you, if you are knowledgeable about lincoln et al., yes, he went through a period of time when he was skeptical about religion. lincoln's critics freeze something he said at one point in time and not balance it out with things he said it other
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point in time. you talk about mary carter pointing out his period of infidelity, then not talking about his second inaugural. i don't think i ever read or heard a criticism where i do not hear lincoln's words quoted back to me from charleston in 1858. i am not now, nor ever have been, in favor of equality between blacks and whites. i am paraphrasing. you never hear the balancing idea that he signed the confiscation act, that he believes the slaves had issue. he believed, let us quit quibbling about this race or that race. or, he says how the declaration of independence applies to all people, forever.
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you get this imbalance, which is the criticism of lincoln. i think that was something i wanted to bring out in the book. another critic of lincoln that is important in the 1930's, is also from illinois. that shifts in the 1930's, largely, prior to the 1930's, the lincoln criticism had been a regional phenomenon. that is understandable, anyway. in the 1930's, edgar lee masters was from illinois, and he published a book called "lincoln, the man." he had been upset by carl sandburg's biography of lincoln so masters published a deeply critical book of lincoln. this line was from masters's book. he said in one of the lines in
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the book, that the imperialism of mckinley is not one bit different than the imperialism of lincoln. i think that is the basic thrust of it, anyway. he writes this book, and living in texas i was fortunate because edgar lee masters's papers are in the university of texas in austin. there are hundreds of letters from people all over the country telling masters, thank you for what you have done in criticizing this man. from seattle to san diego to el paso, texas, to alabama to new york city. i think i read at least 150 letters, most of them positive but many quite negative. i thought you would like to hear
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one or two, if you wouldn't mind. elizabeth polk from tennessee, i am gratified, lincoln was tricky, sly, a poor white all the way through. another, he told masters, be ready for considerable unfavorable comment, because the united states is a nation of hero worship and hypocritical stamina. one man says, he is from alabama, i am delighted you have the current to show lincoln in his true light. i always felt him to be a vulgar, common, cold man, to call him a friend of the south is too absurd or discussion. and so on. those sorts of things. in fact, masters's book was
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banned in boston from being sold. it wasn't as though censorship did not exist. there was truth in what they were saying. this view of lincoln as a symbol of modernity is something you see between the wars. after the wars, there is something that happens that is really profoundly important after world war ii. of course, what is the huge event of the postwar era domestically in the united states? the civil rights movement. i will get back to that in a moment. in 1959, there is a book published by a political philosopher named harry jaffa, called, crisis of a house divided. it is the first book that looks as lincoln as a thinker, not just as a politician scheming for power, that lincoln has very
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particular ideas of what kind of country america ought to be, and that actually, jaffa argues, the civil war was not a war we blundered into. we see that today sometimes. the civil war was not something that happened for no reason. there were very real interests at stake. jaffa was, and remains, a conservative. jaffa was the author of barry goldwater's famous line about freedom and liberty. this book caused a firestorm within the conservative community, because, for the most part, criticism of lincoln -- and not entirely, but criticism of lincoln had been located in kind of a conservative political area.
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jaffa is saying, you cannot have any justice in the country of there is not some amount of reciprocity or equality between people. to william f. buckley's credit he allows jaffa to go back and forth in the pages of national review, over, how should conservatives think about abraham lincoln? i think, in the long run, jaffa wins the debate within the conservative community over lincoln. but, not without cause. i want to mention this, because i think this is interesting. one of jaffa's antagonist was mel bradford, a well-known faulkner scholar at the university of dallas. they argued about lincoln's role
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in american life. in 1981, reagan nominated bradford to be the chair of the national endowment for the humanities. we know how this works -- you probably know better than i do if you have written a lot on a topic and you get nominated for something, that may cause you problems. bradford had written quite a bit about lincoln, and he had compared lincoln to and hitler. this is dug up. by other conservatives. jaffa actually favored bradford getting the nomination. in the end, reagan did not
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nominate bradford to the chair of the national endowment for the humanities. he nominated a man named william bennett from the university of texas, instead. this was something that really caused a significant split within the conservative movement, over abraham lincoln between what might be called the neoconservatives, of which jaffa might be labeled a member, and the paleo conservatives, of which bradford was a member. what happens is, criticism of lincoln gets driven underground by the conservative movement. as george will said, a party that wants to win power cannot
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mock its noble past. even today, we see this split. in 1989, what happens? the cold war ends. 1991, soviet union breaks apart. there is a serious re-examination, even within the conservative movement, about are nations permanent? think about what we saw in scotland with the vote on secession. there is a new criticism of lincoln that develops out of what i would call an anarcho-capitalists viewpoint. rothbard broke with national review over what he thought was there international stance, with regard to the cold war. buckley, i think, was a cold warrior and argued that the united states was going to have
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to fight that and use the state to fight that war. rothbard disagreed with that entirely, and thought the united states had at least as much responsibility as anyone else did, as the russians did, for the cold war. rothbard became a leader of this criticism of lincoln that stems from this libertarian community. to read you a quote, he says this, and this was not long after the soviet union broke up. didn't lincoln use force and violence, and on a massive scale, on behalf of the sacred union to prevent the south from seceding?
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indeed he did. and on the foundation of mass murder and depression, linking crushed the south and outlawed the very notion of secession. based on the highly plausible ground that separate states voluntarily enter the union, they should be allowed to leave. lincoln created a monstrous union state from which local and individual liberties have never recovered. the power of the federal judiciary, supreme court, and army, the overthrowing of the right of habeas corpus, the establishment of martial rule, the suppression of freedom of the press, and the largely permanent establishment of conscription, income tax, taxes against liquor and tobacco, the partnership of government and industry, constituting massive subsidies, transcontinental railroads, the establishment of
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money inflation through the greenbacks and getting off the gold standard, and the nationalizations of banking systems through the national banking act of 1863 and 1864. if you have read, for example, if you have read books about lincoln, you recognize those criticisms. delorenzo is a disciple, if you will, of rothbard, and that rothbard tradition. rothbard also says, one point right after the soviet union broke apart he said, with the inspiration of the death of the soviet union before us, we know that it can be done. what? what can be done? we shall break the clock of social democracy and the great society and the welfare state. we shall break the clock of the new deal.
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we shall break the clock of woodrow wilson's new freedom and perpetual war. we shall repeal the 20th century. he could write, too. rothbard is wonderful to read. very interesting figure. i think that is the view of lincoln criticism that is most prevalent today. when the civil rights movement was going on in the 1960's, there was an african-american critic, an editor at "ebony" magazine, published an essay on the heels of the vietnam war and riots in major cities, people were wondering what lincoln would do about these crisis.
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bennett argued that lincoln is not the solution to our problems, he is the problem because he was a white supremacist. he was a racist. for example, in 1968, that famous essay, he said lincoln had profound doubts about the possibility of realizing the rhetoric of the declaration of independence and gettysburg address on this soil. he believed until his death that lack people and white people would be better off separated. preferably with the atlantic ocean between them. he went on to say in the final analysis, lincoln must be seen as the embodiment, not the transcendence, of the american tradition. which is, a racist tradition. lincoln often called the noblest of americans flawed. one honors him today not by
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gazing at a flawed image, but by seeing oneself in the reflected ambivalence is of his life which calls us to transcend it not imitation. bennett, 30 years later, wrote a 600-page book about abraham lincoln, in which he leveled every criticism he could at abraham lincoln. i gave this some thought as i was getting into the writing of the last chapter of this book. as i was writing the last chapter around the time that a man named senator barack obama was running for the presidency right about the time he was elected to the presidency, it struck me at the time, it was like, how influential is lerone bennett if the most well-known politician in the history of the
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world is using lincoln's image to further his cause? you also have conservatives, african-americans or libertarian african-americans such as thomas sowell who wrote vigorous defenses of lincoln upon publishing of other lincoln books. one thing my book does is say i do think there is criticism of lincoln on the left. i think it exists. i asked one left wing political theorist, corey robin, i said, what do you think the status of lincoln's on the left? he said, i think it is ambivalently positive. i think, right now where you see
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the political influence, it comes from this libertarian movement within the family of conservatism. i think you see, and it is one of the things that was pointed out to me by larry arne hart, a conservative at northern illinois university, criticisms of lincoln has, from conservatives. rich lowery, editor of national review, published the book "lincoln unbound." richard burr kaiser, a writer at national review, published his biography of lincoln, "founders son." that is where my book leaves off, that there is an ambivalently positive view of
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lincoln on the left. i am not sure how influential the left is in america, to tell you the truth. i think there is this argument going on within the family of conservatism -- i know that some libertarians would dispute the they were conservatives, and fair enough, but ron paul did run as a republican, right? he did. pat buchanan, a lincoln critic ran as a republican in the 1990's. it is there. what i would like to do to close this evening, and thank you for your patience, is read to you from the book. i think if we loathe lincoln in some essential ways, we loathe our country. we lose something essential about ourselves.
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we squander a part of our democratic inheritance if we do not realize the cost that came with achieving a greater democratic inheritance. americans need to remind themselves that lincoln's principled stand against the injustice of slavery and slaveholders advocacy for perpetuation and all future times -- that is a phrase from the texas declaration of secession -- combined with his believe that elections, as opposed to secession, was the best method for solving political disagreements, were the hallmarks of democratic politics, and essential aspects of the better parts of our nature. lincoln's aim and asking americans to fight a war to preserve the union cleansed of slavery was courageous and noble, perhaps even necessary.
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the country remains indebted to those who fought to ensure that the nation did not split. lincoln was neither a god nor a saint. he would have been the first to scoff at either notion. nor was he the progenitor of all of america's ills. he was a complex man dedicated to ending slavery in america. there is no shame in saying that he was a gifted politician who with the help of anti-slavery americans, including slaves themselves, explained why the united states should attempt to fulfill the better ideals of its founders. because of the war, those ideals were, for a time, realized.
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the birth of freedom, of which lincoln spoke of and gettysburg, occurred. as african americans became citizens in the new nation born from the conflict with ratification of the 14th amendment to the constitution, in this instance, federal power broadened rather than diminished freedom. it became another of the war's heartbreaking tragedies in addition to its hundreds of thousands of casualties that human liberty shrank at the nation's commitment to a more pluralistic democracy withered in the face of state and local resistance to the air's egalitarian possibilities. it gal a and consequences persisted for far too long. they were impermanent, because americans, especially african-americans, realized they were inconsistent with the commitment to equality.
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as they have in the past, so will americans in the future continue to grapple with the civil war and the president to lead the nation through that conflict. but, the load abraham lincoln would be to lose, or loathe, an essential part of the nation. he wanted us to have an open field and a fair chance for industry, enterprise, and intelligence. one that would give americans equal privilege in the race of life. a country lincoln hoped would become, as he said in his last written words, a union of heart and hand as well as of state. thank you very much. [applause] i will be glad to take any questions, if anyone has them.
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>> i am so glad you read that last paragraph. i was getting depressed. the thing about lincoln, anytime i read anything about him, i get depressed because i know how it ends. i also know how the country that happened after, the fact that if yet lived, if he had lived, his view of what society could have been, slavery ending and what free blacks could have been, the country today would be different. i wonder if you could comment on that, too. >> so what would have happened if lincoln had lived? that's an easy one. it is fun to speculate. first of all, i do not think
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that you would ever have had that between johnson and the republican party. jim oakes has done us all a favor. he was on my dissertation committee and he said i think this would be a good title. i said, i think so, too. thank you, jim. i don't think there would've ever been that break. jim oakes has done a wonderful service and reminding us that lincoln is a republican, part of a move to end slavery. he would have listened and worked with this party that was dedicated to what happened afterwards. with greater freedoms for african-americans. that being said, he would have left office in 1869. he would not have run a third term. the war nearly killed him
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physically and psychologically. the same things that existed in 1869 when grant took office, after johnson left, would have existed if lincoln had lived and grant had taken office. that is simply, that you had this enormous resistance to even the idea of equality. throughout a large areas of the country. that is not simply -- it was more violent there. i don't know if it would have been any different. the resistance would not have been -- i think about that a lot. i really do. i do not know how to answer it but it is a great question.
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>> if stewart had one in the 1860's, would there have been a book called "loathing stewart? >> that is an interesting question. i just finished a chapter in the forthcoming companion book on the secession, the five months between the day lincoln was elected and the day he took office. i think one of the things that struck me in researching this is that there were republicans that would have compromised in 1860 and 1861. stewart might have. i don't know that he would have, but we know that lincoln didn't. this is another criticism that
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comes up among his critics. if he did not save the union for what he saved republican party in a sense, they are right, but they do not know that they are saying more than they mean because what was the republican party dedicated to? non-extension of slavery and its ultimate extinction. you can say, he is trying to save the party, and then say, he doesn't care about ending slavery. if he is a republican, he would he was committed to that. what would seward have done? i don't know. would he have been able to steer the country through the war in the same way, with the same -- holding those different elements of the country together the way
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lincoln did? i am just not sure. karen? >> the review in the "wall street journal," where the republicans are embracing lincoln as their president, they say in the article that lincoln believed in small government yet lincoln was the one who started the railroad act, he did the homestead act, all of these things that were there to expand the nation, he realized the infrastructure was a necessity in order to get the economy growing in the country. the working-class person to give them those rights. it is troubling, that they choose to misinform, do defend -- to defend. >> i think there is something to that approach, that conservative appropriation of lincoln. obviously, he is trying to preserve the union, the country.
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most conservatives, i would say today, love abraham lincoln. look at the claremont review of books. it is very pro-lincoln. there is also the emphasis within the conservative movement today, of lincoln as the man of work and opportunity. i think that is what lowery's book emphasizes, lincoln is a man who believed in opportunity, equal opportunity. lincoln is also a guy who is talking about the declaration of independence as applying to all people at all times everywhere. this idea of timeless truth. there is something to the conservative appropriation and admiration of lincoln. that is one thing that we will always still have. he appeals to both liberals and conservatives, right? in a way. that is interesting to me.
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i don't know that conservatives would say that lincoln was a man of small government. he is a man that believed in limited or constitutionally prudent government. i think that would be the argument. i think that would be the argument. if you are asking me my opinion, that is a different story. we would get into tricky problems. people believe in equal opportunity. most americans believe in that. the trick becomes, what does equal opportunity mean? what role does the government have in providing equal opportunity? lincoln believed the government had a role to play in that. a pretty big one, in some areas. you don't really sense a lot of disdain for american government
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in lincoln's writings and his speeches. that is a long-winded answer to your question, but i think -- i understand that. that conservative appropriation. yes. >> have you had a conversation with modern african-american academics who demean lincoln's role in the extinction of slavery? >> no, i have not. >> in the national archives, there are substantial academics who profoundly do not get it that he did much --
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>> go ahead. >> i overheard african-american academics at a recent panel discussion demean lincoln's role in the extinction of slavery saying that he had a limited role in eliminating slavery. that is a cause of concern today. they want to knock down the reputation of the emancipator because they view him as slow to the game, too little, too late. >> certainly, that view has been around for a long time. one of the things that i was trying to do with the book is to understand what the criticisms are, and look at the issue of influence. i think that view has influence. i have a friend who is at the new york historical society with in the last couple of years, and he overheard a tour guide pooh-pooh'ing lincoln's role.
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that is unusual. you know, i understand that criticism. but in some ways, it strikes me as simplistic. the civil war was the most incredibly complex time in american history. i don't know what else to say to you. >> the thing is, african-americans did more to for themselves than lincoln did. that is a powerful argument. >> no, i think there is a confluence to those events. that is one of those things where there is, like, is that really and either-or question? do we have to say that lincoln was 60% responsible, and african-americans were 40 percent responsible for freeing the slaves? or vice versa?
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why can't everyone have had a role? that is one of the things -- i think oaks influenced me on this, it is an entire movement dedicated to ending slavery. we cannot ever forget that, in a way. >> i think we have to be very careful when we talk about african-americans were not politicians making statements about politicians, because politicians are wired differently, and they have to deal with different issues. if you are a non-politician or academic, you can say whatever you want. it may or may not be true, but a politician has to deal with what he has to deal with.
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if that makes a difference as you look at what a politician says, versus what an academic says. >> i think that that is exactly right. if we lose sight of lincoln is a politician, we lose sight of something that is important. he is not only trying to fight a war, but it is not like we were unified during the civil war. he said, i would like to have god on my side, but i must have kentucky on my side. if kentucky becomes part of the confederacy, it is the second largest state in the confederacy. you have lost all those troops. they go over to the confederacy. yes, ma'am. >> there are a couple things here.
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people judge lincoln by the standards of 2014, and in the 1860's, he was very forward thinking. if you think of eleanor roosevelt, she was a pioneer in her day. some people say she did not go far enough. she resigned and facilitated a concert at the lincoln memorial, but those may have said she should have been there. frederick douglass who agitated to get blacks in uniform. but he had to be the one to sign off on it. one could not happen without the other. >> that is a great point -- i
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agree with you completely. another example of this is, you will hear the 1858 charleston boat, but you will never hear lincoln on the last speech of his life saying he wants blacks to get the right to vote. in 19th-century america, that was a radical idea, right? that was a radical idea for the next 100 years. or, you will often hear people quote the greeley letters, saving the union without freeing the slaves. they never quote that lincoln said, if i could save the union and free all the slaves, i would do it. look, lincoln is all about the
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